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Publication numberUS20020161847 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 10/090,727
Publication dateOct 31, 2002
Filing dateMar 6, 2002
Priority dateApr 30, 2001
Also published asUS7237033, US7694013, US7991911, US8224991, US20080140851, US20100185778, US20110307627, US20130173820, US20130173821
Publication number090727, 10090727, US 2002/0161847 A1, US 2002/161847 A1, US 20020161847 A1, US 20020161847A1, US 2002161847 A1, US 2002161847A1, US-A1-20020161847, US-A1-2002161847, US2002/0161847A1, US2002/161847A1, US20020161847 A1, US20020161847A1, US2002161847 A1, US2002161847A1
InventorsWilliam Raduchel, Gilbert Weigand
Original AssigneeWeigand Gilbert G., Raduchel William J.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Duplicating switch for streaming data units to a terminal
US 20020161847 A1
Abstract
Streaming to a terminal by using a duplicating switch to receive a stream of data units, using the duplicating switch to store content from the stream, using the duplicating switch to generate a second stream that incorporates the content that was stored and address information corresponding to more than one terminal whose addressing information was not part of the first stream, and using the duplicating switch to make the second stream of data units available to two or more terminals.
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Claims(36)
What is claimed is:
1. A method of streaming data units to terminals, the method comprising:
using a duplicating switch to receive a first stream of data units;
using the duplicating switch to store content from the first stream;
using the duplicating switch to generate second streams that incorporate the stored content for use by more terminals having addressing information that was not part of the first stream; and
using the duplicating switch to make the second streams available to the terminals, wherein the duplicating switch is configured to duplicate one or more portions of the first stream.
2. The method of claim 1 wherein using the duplicating switch to store content includes storing content that is temporally related to the data units that are being generated.
3. The method of claim 1 further comprising using a location identifier to indicate which portion of content is being generated into the second streams.
4. The method of claim 3 further comprising using location identifiers to access the content time-shifted as two different streams.
5. The method of claim 1 wherein using the duplicating switch to store content includes storing more than one instance of the same portion of content.
6. The method of claim 5 wherein using the duplicating switch to store content includes storing additional instances of the stream as demand for the content increases.
7. The method of claim 1 wherein using the duplicating switch to store content includes storing content and associated header information.
8. The method of claim 1 wherein using the duplicating switch to store content includes storing a checksum describing the content.
9. The method of claim 1 wherein at least one of the second streams is transmitted in response to receiving a request from a terminal.
10. The method of claim 1 wherein the second stream is transmitted in response to receiving a request from a service provider.
11. The method of claim 1 wherein:
storing the content includes using location identifiers to track simultaneous transmissions of a single stored instance of a stream, and
transmitting includes transmitting the different data units within the single stored instance to several requestors who have terminals receiving the stream that overlap but differ by a time differential.
12. The method of claim 1 wherein the duplicating switch is a specialized device including hardware configured to perform one or more of receiving a first stream of data units, storing content from the first stream, generating second streams, and making the second streams available.
13. A duplicating switch comprising:
means for receiving a first stream of data units;
means for storing content from the first stream;
generating means for generating second streams that incorporate the stored content for use by more terminals having addressing information that was not part of the first stream, the generating means being configured to duplicate one or more portions of the first stream; and
means for making the second streams available to the terminals.
14. The duplicating switch of claim 13 wherein means for storing content includes means for storing content that is temporally related to the data units that are being generated.
15. The duplicating switch of claim 14 further comprising means for using a location identifier to indicate which portion of content is being generated into the second streams.
16. The duplicating switch of claim 15 further comprising means for using location identifiers to access the content time-shifted as two different streams.
17. The duplicating switch of claim 13 wherein means for storing content includes means for storing more than one instance of the same portion of content.
18. The duplicating switch of claim 17 wherein means for storing content includes means for storing additional instances of the stream as demand for the content increases.
19. The duplicating switch of claim 13 wherein means for storing content includes means for storing content and associated header information.
20. The duplicating switch of claim 13 wherein means for storing content includes means for storing a checksum describing the content.
21. The duplicating switch of claim 13 wherein the means for making the second streams available include means for transmitting at least one of the second streams in response to receiving a request from a terminal.
22. The duplicating switch of claim 13 wherein the second stream is transmitted by the means for making it available in response to receiving a request from a service provider.
23. The duplicating switch of claim 13 wherein:
means for storing the content includes means for using location identifiers to track simultaneous transmissions of a single stored instance of a stream, and
means for transmitting includes means for transmitting the different data units within the single stored instance to several requestors who have terminals receiving the stream that overlap but differ by a time differential.
24. The duplicating switch of claim 13 wherein the generating means include a specialized device including hardware configured to perform one or more of receiving a first stream of data units, storing content from the first stream, generating second streams, and making the second streams available.
25. A duplicating switch comprising:
a first communications interface structured and arranged to receive a first stream of data units;
a storage processor structured and arranged to store content from the first stream;
a switching processor structured and arranged to generate second streams that incorporate the stored content for use by more terminals having addressing information that was not part of the first stream, the switching processor being configured to duplicate one or more portions of the first stream; and
a second communications interface structured and arranged to make the second streams available to the terminals.
26. The duplicating switch of claim 25 wherein the storage processor is structured and arranged to store content that is temporally related to the data units that are being generated.
27. The duplicating switch of claim 26 further comprising a first memory processor structured and arranged to use a location identifier to indicate which portion of content is being generated into the second streams.
28. The duplicating switch of claim 27 further comprising a second memory processor structured and arranged to use location identifiers to access the content time-shifted as two different streams.
29. The duplicating switch of claim 25 wherein storage processor is structured and arranged to store more than one instance of the same portion of content.
30. The duplicating switch of claim 29 wherein the storage processor is structured and arranged to store additional instances of the stream as demand for the content increases.
31. The duplicating switch of claim 25 wherein the storage processor is structured and arranged to store content and associated header information.
32. The duplicating switch of claim 31 wherein the storage processor is structured and arranged to store a checksum describing the content.
33. The duplicating switch of claim 25 wherein the second communications interface is structured and arranged to make at least one of the second streams available in response to receiving a request from a terminal.
34. The duplicating switch of claim 25 wherein the second stream is transmitted by the second communications interface in response to receiving a request from a service provider.
35. The duplicating switch of claim 25 wherein:
the storage processor is structured and arranged to use location identifiers to track simultaneous transmissions of a single stored instance of a stream, and
the second communications interface is structured and arranged to transmit the different data units within the single stored instance to several requesters who have terminals receiving the stream that overlap but differ by a time differential.
36. The duplicating switch of claim 25 wherein the switching processor is a specialized device including hardware configured to perform one or more of receiving a first stream of data units, storing content from the first stream, generating second streams, and making the second streams available.
Description
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claims the benefit of U.S. application Ser. No. 09/893,692, filed Jun. 29, 2001, and titled “GENERATING MULTIPLE DATA STREAMS FROM A SINGLE DATA SOURCE”; U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/286,964, filed Apr. 30, 2001, and titled “GENERATING MULTIPLE DATA STREAMS FROM A SINGLE DATA SOURCE”; and U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/343,183, filed Dec. 31, 2001, and titled “A DUPLICATING SWITCH FOR STREAMING DATA UNITS TO A TERMINAL”, both of which are incorporated by reference.

TECHNICAL FIELD

[0002] This application relates generally to streaming media.

BACKGROUND

[0003] The term multimedia streaming describes a process for allowing access to multimedia content from one or more sources. Increased usage of the Internet has resulted in an increased demand for multimedia streaming.

SUMMARY

[0004] In one general aspect, data units may be streamed to a terminal by using a duplicating switch to receive a first stream of data units, store content from the first stream, generate second streams that incorporate the stored content, and make the second streams available to the terminals.

[0005] Implementations may include one or more of the following features. For example, using the duplicating switch to store content may include storing content that is temporally related to the data units that are being generated. A location identifier may be used to indicate which portion of content is being generated into the second streams. Location identifiers may be used to access the content time-shifted as two different streams. Using the duplicating switch to store content also may include storing more than one instance of the same portion of content, and storing additional instances of the stream as demand for the content increases.

[0006] Using the duplicating switch to store content may include storing content and associated header information. Using the duplicating switch to store content also may include storing a checksum describing the content.

[0007] A second stream may be transmitted in response to receiving a request from a terminal or a service provider. Storing the content may include using location identifiers to track simultaneous transmissions of a single stored instance of a stream, and making streams available may include transmitting the different data units within the single stored instance to several requesters who have terminals receiving the stream that overlap but differ by a time differential. The duplicating switch may be a specialized device including hardware configured to perform one or more of receiving a first stream of data units, storing content from the first stream, generating second streams, and making the second streams available.

[0008] Other features and advantages will be apparent from the following description, including the drawings, and the claims.

DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

[0009]FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a communications system capable of using a duplicating switch to generate a stream of data units.

[0010]FIG. 2 is an exemplary component diagram of a duplicating switch suitable for use in the communications system of FIG. 1.

[0011]FIG. 3A is an exemplary block diagram of a duplicating switch that uses memory (e.g., RAM (“Random Access Memory”)) to store a media stream for subsequent playback.

[0012]FIG. 3B is an exemplary block diagram of a duplicating switch that uses storage to store a media stream for subsequent playback.

[0013]FIG. 4 is a block diagram of a precoder for use in a duplicating switch.

[0014]FIG. 5 is a flow chart of a procedure for processing a received data unit using a duplicating switch in a communications system, such as the communications system of FIG. 1.

[0015]FIG. 6 is a flow chart of a procedure for providing a stream of data units in a communications system, such as the communications system of in FIG. 1.

[0016]FIG. 7A illustrates a duplicating switch structured and arranged to store multiple instances of a stream of data units.

[0017]FIG. 7B illustrates a duplicating switch structured and arranged to store multiple location identifiers.

[0018]FIG. 8 is a flow chart of a procedure for time-shifting content in a communications system, such as the communications system of FIG. 1.

[0019] Like reference symbols in the various drawings may indicate like elements.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0020] Generally, a duplicating switch receives a source stream of data units and stores content of the stream to enable subsequent generation of one or more streams that incorporate the content. Storing the content permits time shifting of the content for subsequent transmission. For example, an on-demand system can be created to transmit stored content from a source stream in response to a user's request. The duplicating switch may use one or more pointers to enable simultaneous access to different portions of content from the same source stream and thus simultaneous generation of several different and offset streams from a single source stream. The duplicating switch may store multiple instances of content from a source stream to manage increased demand. The duplicating switch also may reduce overall storage requirements by storing only certain portions of the content from within a source stream.

[0021] For illustrative purposes, FIGS. 1-8 describe a communications system for using a duplicating switch to stream data units to a terminal. For brevity, several elements in the figures described below are represented as monolithic entities. However, as would be understood by one skilled in the art, these elements each may include numerous interconnected computers and components designed to perform a set of specified operations and/or dedicated to a particular geographical region.

[0022] For illustrative purposes, FIG. 1 depicts a communications system 100 that implements techniques using a duplicating switch to stream data units to two or more terminals. Communications system 100 may be structured and arranged to include a source system 110, one or more terminals 150, and communication software and hardware enabling communications between source system 110 and terminals 150. More particularly, the communications system 100 typically includes the source system 110, a network 120, a duplicating switch 130, a network 140, and terminals 150. In actual implementations, the source system 110 generally transmits one or more data units in a stream of data units across network 120 to one or more duplicating switches 130, where content from the data units is stored, duplicated and transmitted to one or more terminals 150 through network 140 in an on-demand manner.

[0023] The source system 110 provides a stream of one or more data units across the network 120 to the duplicating switch 130. Typically, the source system 110 is structured and arranged to convert a media source (e.g., a video or audio feed) into data units for transmission across the network 120. The source system 110 may include a general-purpose computer having a central processor unit (CPU), and memory/storage devices that store data and various programs such as an operating system and one or more application programs. Other implementations of the source system 110 include a workstation, a server, a device, a special purpose device or component, other equipment or some combination thereof capable of responding to and executing instructions in a defined manner. The source system 110 also typically includes an input/output (I/O) device (e.g., video and audio input and conversion capability), and peripheral equipment such as a display communications card or device (e.g., a modem or a network adapter) for exchanging data with the network 120.

[0024] Implementations of the source system 110 also may include a media system that transmits one of more pieces of media content across a network 120. For example, a source system 110 may transmit signals formatted according to European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB), Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), or European Cable Communications Association (ECCA) standards across a network to a cable head end. In another implementation, a cable provider may transmit or direct video signals to a cable head end for distribution in a cable network.

[0025] A communications link 115 is used to communicate data between source system 110 and network 120. Communications link 115 may include wired or wireless modes of communication, such as a telephone line, a wireless network link, a cable network, or a direct connection.

[0026] The network 120 typically includes hardware and/or software capable of enabling direct or indirect communications between the source system 110 and the duplicating switch 130. The network 120 may include a direct link between the source system 110 and the duplicating switch 130, or it may include one or more networks or subnetworks between them (not explicitly shown). Each network or subnetwork may include, for example, a wired or wireless data pathway capable of carrying and receiving data. Examples of network 120 include the Internet, the World Wide Web, WANs (“Wide Area Network”), LANs (“Local Area Networks”), analog or digital wired and wireless telephone networks (e.g., PSTN (“Public Switched Telephone Network”), ISDN (“Integrated Services Digital Network”), or xDSL (“any form of Digital Subscriber Loop”)), radio, television, cable, satellite, and/or other delivery mechanisms for carrying data.

[0027] Generally, the duplicating switch 130 is structured and arranged to store a received stream of data units for time-shifted transmission to more than one terminal. Implementations of the duplicating switch 130 may store one or more streams of data units. For example, the duplicating switch 130 may be capable of receiving a stream of IP (“Internet Protocol”) video and storing that video for subsequent transmission. Implementations of duplicating switch 130 also may include hardware or software capable of transmitting or receiving media feeds not resembling a stream of data units. For example, the duplicating switch may include a cable head end system that is capable of receiving or transmitting European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB), Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), or European Cable Communications Association (ECCA) for transmission on a cable distribution system. The cable head end system may receive a satellite broadcast feed, convert the feed into a format suitable for storage, and thereafter convert the feed back to a different format for time-shifted transmission.

[0028] The network 140 generally includes one or more of links between the duplicating switch 130 and the terminals 150. For example, the network 140 may include a direct physical link or a series of links connected by various pieces of network equipment. Generally, aspects of network 140 may resemble aspects of network 120. For example, network 120 and network 140 may share one or more hardware or software devices. In another example, networks 120 and 140 may use the same type of circuits and/or equipment.

[0029] The terminal 150 may include one or more devices capable of receiving the stream of data units transmitted by duplicating switch 130 through network 140. The terminal 150 may include a controller (not shown) that processes instructions received from or generated by a software application, a program, a piece of code, a device, a computer, a computer system, or a combination thereof, which independently or collectively direct operations of the terminal 150. The instructions may be embodied permanently or temporarily in any type of machine, component, equipment, storage medium, or propagated signal that is capable of being delivered to the terminal 150 or that may reside with the controller at the terminal 150. The terminal 150 may include a general-purpose computer (e.g., a personal computer) capable of responding to and executing instructions in a defined manner, a workstation, a laptop, a PDA (“Personal Digital Assistant”), a wireless phone, a component, other equipment, or some combination of these items that is capable of responding to and executing instructions.

[0030] For instance, in one implementation, the terminal 150 includes one or more information retrieval software applications (e.g., a browser, a mail application, an instant messaging client, an Internet service provider client, or an AOL TV (“America Online Television”) or other integrated client) capable of receiving one or more data units. The information retrieval applications may run on a general purpose operating system and a hardware platform that includes a general purpose processor and specialized hardware for graphics, communications and/or other capabilities. In another implementation, terminal 150 may include a wireless telephone running a micro-browser application on a reduced operating system with general purpose and specialized hardware capable of operating in mobile environments.

[0031] In another implementation, the terminal 150 may include a simplified device capable of receiving a video signal not encapsulated in a traditional data unit. For example, the duplicating switch 130 may transmit a raw video feed formatted in accordance with specifications set forth by, e.g., European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB), Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), or European Cable Communications Association (ECCA) for transmission directly to a cable tuner or television.

[0032]FIG. 2 illustrates a duplicating switch 200 structured and arranged to receive a stream, store content from the stream, generate data units from the stream, and transmit the generated data units as a stream. The duplicating switch 200 generally corresponds to the duplicating switch 130 in FIG. 1. The duplicating switch 200 generally includes a storage system 210 for storing the stream of data units, a high speed interconnect 220 between the various subsystems in the duplicating switch 200, a switching engine 230 for modifying and transmitting the stream of data units to two or more clients, a first communications interface 240 for receiving a stream of data units from a source system, and a second communications interface 250 for transmitting a stream of data units to two or more clients.

[0033] The storage system 210 enables the duplicating switch 200 to store at least the content portion of the data unit. The storage system 210 may be volatile or nonvolatile and may include memory (e.g., RAM) and/or storage (e.g., HDDS). Implementations of storage system 210 may include a hard disk drive or a more portable media, e.g., a compact disk, a tape drive, or an optical memory device. Implementations also may include combinations of memory and storage.

[0034] The high speed interconnect 220 generally refers to a device that connects a component of the duplicating switch 200 with other elements of the duplicating switch 200. Examples of the high speed interconnect 220 may include, but are not limited to, SCSI (“Small Computer Serial Interface”), Fibre Channel, UTOPIA (“Universal Test and Operations PHY interface for ATM (“Asynchronous Transfer Mode”)), Infiniband, and other protocols and connection methods. The high speed interconnect may include physical, logical, timing and electrical connections and standards as well as protocols that enable these high speed interconnects to exchange data.

[0035] Generally, a switching engine 230 includes a device that performs network operations in hardware (e.g., a chip or part of chip). In some implementations, the switching engine 230 may include an ASIC (“Application Specific Integrated Circuit”) implementing network operations logic directly on a chip (e.g., logical gates fabricated on a silicon wafer then manufactured into a chip). For example, an ASIC chip may include a logical gate structure implemented in silicon and configured to receive a packet and filter based on examining an IP address.

[0036] Implementations of the switching engine 230 may include using a FPGA (“Field Programmable Gate Array”). An FPGA generally is defined as a chip fabricated to allow third parties to implement a variety of logical designs (e.g., group of gates) on the chip. For example, one designer may load a design that replaces the IP address of received IP packets with a different IP address. Another example may include a design that performs segmentation and reassembly of IP packets as they are modified during transmission of the IP packet through different networks.

[0037] Implementations of the switching engine 230 may include using a network processor. A network processor generally is defined as a chip that, among other features, allows software to specify which network operations should be performed. One example of a network processor may include several interconnected RISC (“Reduced Instruction Set Computer”) processors fabricated in a network processor chip. The network processor chip may implement on some of the RISC processors software that change an IP address of an IP packet. Other RISC processors in the network processor may implement software that controls which terminals receive an IP stream.

[0038] The switching engine 230 may include a precoder (not shown) that is structured and arranged to receive a data unit, extract a content piece from the payload portion of the data unit, determine where the content piece will be stored, and store the content piece in a structured manner so that retrieval (e.g., playback) involves retrieving neighboring content pieces, packaging data units around the content pieces, and transmitting the data units to one or more requestors. This process will be described further with respect to FIG. 4.

[0039] The first communications interface 240 generally is structured and arranged to receive a stream of data units from a device such as the source system 110. Implementations of the communications interface may include a LAN or WAN interface with the ability to direct the data units to one or more locations in the duplicating switch 200, using, for example, the high speed interconnect 220. Implementations also may include other forms of transmitting a media signal, including ETSI, DVB, ATSC, or ECCA.

[0040] The second communications interface 250 generally is structured and arranged to transmit a stream of data units from the memory system 210 to one or more devices that generally correspond with recipients, such as terminal 150 described with respect to FIG. 1. Implementations of the second communications interface 250 may include a LAN or WAN interface with the ability to direct the data units to one or more locations in the duplicating switch 200 using, for example, the high speed interconnect 220. Implementations also may include other forms or transmitting a media signal other than by IP networking. In addition, the second communications interface 250 is not limited to the same type of format as the first communications interface 240, though they may include the same format and even the same physical interface. For example, the first communications interface 240 may include a POS (“Packet-over-SONET”) interface while the second communications interface 250 may include some form of Ethernet (e.g., 100-Base-T, Gigabit Ethernet).

[0041]FIG. 3A provides an exemplary block diagram of a duplicating switch (e.g., duplicating switch 130 in FIG. 1) with a memory implementation. The duplicating switch 300A includes a RAM array 320A, a switching engine 330A and a network interface 340A.

[0042] The RAM array 320A may include one or more RAM memory banks structured and arranged to store one or more pieces of content. The RAM array 320A may store just a portion of the stream of data units. For example, a provider streaming out a movie may store one portion of the movie for several users to watch at one time. The RAM array 320A may store a window (e.g., a ten-minute window) of the movie that a user may use to time-shift the movie (e.g., pause, stop playing, or rewind) while staying current with the movie being broadcast.

[0043] Within the RAM array 320A, there may be location identifiers to keep track or indicate which content piece to package and/or transmit to a terminal. For example, an OSP (“Online Service Provider”) may schedule a stream of data units to be transmitted to terminals at a certain time. In one example, the duplicating switch loads a portion of the stream of content pieces indicated by the location identifier to the RAM array 320A. In this example, the duplicating switch may use one or more pointers to indicate which content pieces (e.g., frames) should be transmitted to which user. In another example, an on-demand system may load a larger portion of the content pieces to memory and may use a first pointer to transmit one stream of data units and a second pointer to transmit a second stream of data units simultaneously or otherwise.

[0044] The switching engine 330A is structured and arranged to manage the content being stored in and retrieved from the RAM array 320A. Aspects of the switching engine 330A generally correspond to aspects of the switching engine 230 in FIG. 2. The switching engine 330A generally loads and retrieves content to/from the RAM array 320A. Examples of content that may be loaded and retrieved by switching engine 330A include content pieces without wrappers (e.g., OSI wrappers), such as datagrams having MPEG (“Motion Picture Experts Group”) I, P, and B frames removed, video frames and differential checksum values that describe frame-to-frame changes and frames with one or more added wrappers (e.g., a layer 4 datagram). In one implementation, the switching engine 330A may implement a system of pointers designed to keep track of where in time or sequence number the terminals are with respect to the available stored content. The switching engine 330A may include a device, a program, a software controller, or another system or device in combination with the above. In another implementation, the switching engine 330A may manage overall system utilization and refuse subsequent requests for services or attempt to serve more than one terminal from one stream of data units.

[0045] The network interface 340A is designed to transmit and receive a stream of data units and generally corresponds to the first communications interface 240 and second communications interface 250 described in FIG. 2.

[0046]FIG. 3B provides another exemplary block diagram of a duplicating switch 300B with a storage implementation. The duplicating switch 300B includes a stream platform 310B, a switching engine 330B, and a network interface 340B.

[0047] The stream platform 310B is structured and arranged to store content from within a stream of data units. The stream platform 310B includes a hard disk drive 312B (or a tape drive or other magnetic memory) and optical memory 316B. Generally, the stream platform 310B includes memory components with low bandwidth performance but high capacities. For example, storage may include solid-state-memory (not shown) that is slower than solidstate memory used in other applications. Typically, because of the greater storage available with less bandwidth, the stream platform 310B will store a larger portion of a stream (e.g., a movie), but will limit access to fewer simultaneous streams absent RAM or other cache interfaces.

[0048] Implementations of the storage platform 310B may include the disk storage 312B having a RAM interface to the switching engine 330B. For example, the duplicating switch may include a RAM bank and disk storage. Content pieces may be loaded to the disk storage such that the content pieces are retrieved in the order that they are transmitted. As the content pieces are being retrieved, they are loaded to the RAM bank. The higher throughput performance of the RAM banks may enable more terminals to access the same content piece. Terminals accessing the stream of data units may use a pointer to the content pieces in the RAM bank to keep track and load the data units they need in the stream of data units.

[0049] The switching engine 330B is structured and arranged to manage the content being stored and retrieved in the stream platform 310B. The switching engine 330B generally corresponds to the switching engine 330A described with respect to FIG. 3A. The network interface 340B is designed to transmit and receive a stream of data units and generally corresponds to the first communications interface 240 and second communications interface 250 described with respect to FIG. 2.

[0050] The RAM-based and storage-based systems described with respect to FIGS. 3A and 3B illustrate implementations that are designed to account for common limitations of the existing memory and storage systems (e.g., solid-state RAM offers high throughput but less storage while hard drives and optical memory offer higher storage but less throughput). However, implementations are not limited to those shown, nor are memory or storage devices necessarily subject to these constraints. For example, a disk drive may be used to implement a system managing multiple pointers and may offer higher bandwidth, while solid-state memory may offer higher density storage than the disk drive storage.

[0051]FIG. 4 shows an example of a duplicating switch 400 with precoder functionality. The duplicating switch 400 generally corresponds to the duplicating switch 130 of FIG. 1. The duplicating switch 400 includes a data unit interface 410, a content extraction system 420, a content arrangement system 440, and a content store 450.

[0052] The data unit interface 410 generally is structured and arranged to interface with a network to transmit and receive a data unit from the content store 440. Generally, the functionality of the data unit interface 410 corresponds to the functionality of the first communications interface 240 and the second communications interface 250 of FIG. 2. Data unit interface 410 also may be configured to segment and reassemble a data unit that has been separated during transmission, or to handle unconventional data units. For example, the data unit interface 410 may be configured to transmit/receive one or more media frames (e.g., frames formatted according to one of ETSI, DVB, ATSC, or ECCA). In one instance, if the duplicating switch 400 receives an analog signal, the data unit interface 410 may convert the signal to a recognized format that the frame or content piece may store.

[0053] The content extraction system 420 is structured and arranged to remove a data unit wrapper that is added around content for transmission. For example, the content extraction system 420 may remove one or more bits associated with OSI (“Open Systems Interconnect”) information encapsulated along with the content for transmission. The content extraction system 420 also is capable of adding the wrapper when the data is retrieved from the content store 450 for subsequent transmission. For example, the content extraction system 420 may remove wrapper information when storing a stream of data units in the content store 450 and may add a different wrapper when transmitting the stream of data units from the content store 450.

[0054] The content arranger 440 is structured and arranged to direct storage and retrieval of the content information such that the content information may be retrieved in a determinate manner. For example, the content may be arranged so that the addressing information may be updated in predictable increments. In another example, the content may be arranged such that the difference between frames of content may be calculated by analyzing an associated checksum that then may be stored.

[0055] Determining where a content piece may be stored and storing the content piece may include using hard disk drive constraints to store the content piece. For example, the content store 450 (e.g., hard drive) may store the content pieces such that the same “read” or data retrieval will retrieve related content pieces that are frequently transmitted in close proximity to one another (e.g., adjacent frames in a movie or adjacent I, P, and B MPEG frames).

[0056] Determining where a content piece may be stored and storing the content piece may include using solid-state storage (e.g., various forms of RAM) to store the content piece. For example, the solid-state storage may store all or a portion of the stream in an array of RAM memory. If a portion of the RAM memory is used to store the content piece, the RAM may load a certain window of content for transmission to one or more terminals. In some implementations, the duplicating switch may store more than one instance of the stream of data units in the array of RAM.

[0057] The content store 450 is structured and arranged to store content pieces or frames. As described above with respect to the content arranger 440, the content is generally structured and arranged to be retrieved in a manner enabling transmission of related content pieces to one or more terminals. The content store 450 generally corresponds to the memory system 210 of FIG. 2, the RAM array 320A of FIG. 3A, and the storage platform 310B of FIG. 3B.

[0058]FIG. 5 illustrates a procedure 500 for storing and transmitting a data unit using a duplicating switch. In general, the procedure 500 may be performed using one of the duplicating switches described with respect to FIGS. 1-4.

[0059] Initially, the duplicating switch receives a data unit (step 505) and selects the content piece from the data unit (step 510). Typically, selecting the content piece of the data unit involves identifying fields or portions of the data unit that correspond to the content, and removing some or all aspects not related to the content. For example, a duplicating switch may remove one or more layers of an OSI (“Open Systems Interconnection”) header and store the remainder of the data unit as the content piece. In another example, selecting the content may include creating or modifying location identifiers to identify which portion of the data unit should be stored when the data unit is loaded to memory.

[0060] Selecting the content may include enabling one or more portions of other aspects of the data unit to be retained with the content. For example, one or more fields of the OSI header may be preserved and stored as content.

[0061] Implementations may include using a pre-coder to modify or adjust the content for storage. For example, the pre-coder may compress the content so that less bandwidth is consumed during transmission. In another example, the pre-coder may calculate a checksum or shortcut describing intra-content differences. This checksum or shortcut may be stored in place of storing some of the content pieces.

[0062] The duplicating switch determines the location in the memory system in which to store the content piece (step 520). Typically, the location for storage of the content piece is selected so that related content pieces may be retrieved in related operations. Examples of related content may include sequential frames in a video and/or content in a time slice. The duplicating switch then stores the content piece in the determined location (step 530).

[0063] At some later time, the duplicating switch receives a request for a content piece (step 540). Receiving a request for a content piece may include having a user (e.g., terminal 150 in FIG. 1) request a video stream for display on the user's home computer. Implementations also may include having other devices request the content piece. For example, a cable modem acting as a set top box may request a content piece for display to a television.

[0064] Implementations also may include having a request originate from a source other than the intended destination. For example, a cable system administrator may generate a request for the content piece on behalf of one or more subscribers.

[0065] The duplicating switch 130 determines which content piece has been requested (step 550). The requestor may designate a content piece to send. For example, a terminal may keep track of which content has been received, and may generate a request for one or more pieces of content (e.g., frame number 100 is missing). Implementations also may include having the duplicating switch track which content piece is required. For example, a duplicating switch may attempt to transmit the same content piece to several users.

[0066] The duplicating switch 130 determines where the content piece is located (step 560). To do so, the duplicating switch may use the location identifiers described with respect to FIGS. 2 and 3. Other implementations may employ a file and/or an archiving system maintained to manage access to content pieces.

[0067] The duplicating switch 130 retrieves the content piece (step 570). The duplicating switch may do so by reading a memory location specified by a location identifier. Other implementations may include retrieving multiple pieces of content information (e.g., reading a sector on a disk).

[0068] The duplicating switch 130 packages the content piece in a data unit (step 580). For example, the duplicating switch may add one or more layers of OSI information (e.g., addressing information). Implementations where one or more aspects of the data unit other than content are stored with the content piece may include modifying one or more parameters in those fields. For example, if an Internet Protocol packet is stored, the destination address may be modified to the addresses of requesting users.

[0069] Finally, the duplicating switch transmits the data unit to one or more terminals (step 590). The data unit may be transmitted in formats other than IP addressing. For example, transmitting the data unit may include transmitting an on-demand channel over a network.

[0070] The function of a communications system 600 will now be described with respect to FIG. 6. Communications system 600 generally includes a source system 602, a manager 604, a duplicating switch 606, and terminals 608 and 610. In general, the source system 602 corresponds to the source system 110 of FIG. 1, duplicating switch 606 corresponds to duplicating switch 130 in FIG. 1, and terminals 608 and 610 correspond to terminals 150 of FIG. 1. The manager 604 may include a cable system operator, an OSP, a content provider, or an entity capable of providing instructions or direction to the duplicating switch 606.

[0071] As shown, the source system 602 generates a stream of data units (step 613). The source system 602 transmits the stream of data units to the duplicating switch 606 (step 616).

[0072] The duplicating switch 606 receives the stream of data units (step 625). The duplicating switch 606 then stores at least the content pieces from the stream of data units (step 627).

[0073] The stream may be transmitted in a variety of ways. In some implementations, the manager 604 waits for a condition to occur (step 618). For example, the manager may be a scheduler that is programmed to direct a duplicating switch “broadcast.” When the condition occurs (step 620), the manager 604 transmits a request to the duplicating switch 606 to transmit the stream of data units (step 623).

[0074] Alternatively, a terminal 608 may generate a request for a stream (step 633). For example, the terminal 608 may generate a request to view a particular video stream. The duplicating switch 606 receives the request (step 630).

[0075] In an implementation generally corresponding to the system described with respect to FIG. 3B, the duplicating switch 606 may load one or more content pieces into fast memory (e.g., RAM) (step 631). For example, the duplicating switch 606 may determine that there is inadequate bandwidth to the existing storage of the content and may load frequently-accessed content pieces to the faster memory to increase capacity.

[0076] Regardless of the mechanism used to indicate when to transmit the stream of data units to a terminal, the duplicating switch 606 may transmit the stream of data units to two or more terminals 608, 610 (step 636). In some implementations, a terminal receives a stream that has been broadcast or otherwise automatically transmitted to the stream recipient without requesting the stream of data units. In either case, terminals 608 and 610 receive the stream of data units (step 640 and 640A). Depending on the implementation, a different “stack” of content pieces may be loaded into memory to support terminal 610.

[0077] In some implementations, the terminal 608 may generate and transmit a pause message (step 645). For example, a terminal may wish to “pause” a video on-demand stream and return to the stream at a later point. When the duplicating switch 606 receives the pause message (step 650), the duplicating switch 606 pauses transmitting to the terminal 608 (step 655). The duplicating switch 606 may still transmit a stream of data units to terminal 610 (not shown). The pause message may be implemented in a variety of ways. For example, terminal 608 may keep track of which data units have been received and resume where it left off by generating and transmitting a resume message (step 660). Another example may include having the terminal 608 transmit a stop message and the duplicating switch 606 keep track of where to resume when the transmit resume message is received (step 660).

[0078] If and when the duplicating switch 606 receives the resume message (step 665), the duplicating switch 606 transmits the stream of data units 670 to the terminal (step 670). The terminal 608 then receives the stream of data units (step 675).

[0079]FIG. 7A depicts a duplicating switch 700A structured and arranged to store multiple instances of the stream of data units. The duplicating switch 700A transmits two streams of data units, stream A and stream Al. Stream A occupies memory storage 710A in the memory bank, while stream Al occupies memory storage 720A in the memory bank. In one implementation, a first pointer 715A to the memory storage 710A indicates which content piece, relative to other content pieces, should be encapsulated as a data unit and transmitted to a terminal requesting Stream A. As mentioned previously, implementations may include storing a portion of the content pieces in the memory bank. For example, if problematic network conditions prevent a terminal from receiving some of the stream of data units, the terminal may not receive some of the content pieces and may experience gaps in receiving the stream of data units (e.g., missing time in a movie).

[0080] A second pointer 725A to the memory storage 720A indicates which portions of content pieces encapsulated in a stream of data units are being transmitted to several terminals. One or more terminals wishing to receive one or more data units in the stream of data units receive the content piece corresponding to the second pointer 725A, which is continuously advanced to the next content piece. In some implementations, the second pointer 725A may advance several content pieces and encapsulate more than one content piece in a data unit.

[0081]FIG. 7B depicts a duplicating switch 700B structured and arranged to store multiple location identifiers. In this example, duplicating switch 700B includes five content pieces in stream A: A1 710, A2 720, A3 730, A4 740, and A5 750. Duplicating switch 700B also includes an area of memory allocated for an expected content piece A6 760.

[0082] In one example, the duplicating switch 700B enables each of terminals T, U and V to receive its own stream of data units. Each of the terminals manages a location identifier (e.g., pointer) to direct the duplicating switch to select the appropriate content piece to be transmitted. For example, terminals T, U, and V may begin by requesting content piece A1 710 simultaneously.

[0083] After some content pieces have been transmitted, and as shown in FIG. 7B, the location identifier 725 for terminal T may be referencing content piece A2 720, while the location identifier 742 and the location identifier 744 for terminals U and V are referencing content piece A4 740 that corresponds to a different time-shift than content piece A2. This offset may have occurred because, for example, terminal T paused receipt of the stream of data units, and is now receiving content pieces that are delayed relative to those received by terminals U and V.

[0084] In another example, duplicating switch 700B includes five content pieces in stream B: B1 770, B2 771, B3 772, B4 773, and B5 780. Duplicating switch 700B also includes an area of memory allocated for an expected content piece B6 790. In one implementation, stream B may be part of the same stream of data units as stream A, but may correspond to a different portion of the stream of data units. For example, stream A may be a “video” stream 40 minutes into a video stream while stream B is five minutes into the same video stream. In another example, stream B may be identical to stream A but was added to implement better system performance. In yet another example, stream A and stream B may represent completely different video streams (e.g., two different television channels).

[0085]FIG. 8 illustrates a procedure 800 for implementing a “Pause” function on a duplicating switch, such as the duplicating switches described with respect to FIGS. 1-7. Initially, the duplicating switch receives a stream of data units (step 810) and stores content pieces from the stream of data units (step 820). With the content stored and ready for transmission, the duplicating switch waits to receive a request to play the stream of data units (step 830). Though the duplicating switch may wait for a request-to-play message, in some implementations, the duplicating switch may begin to transmit (e.g., play) upon receipt of the stream. In this configuration, the content might only be stored when a user requests pausing of the stream.

[0086] In an optional implementation, the duplicating switch may load the stream (content pieces) to fast memory (step 840). This generally corresponds to loading the stream to fast memory as described with respect to FIG. 6.

[0087] The duplicating switch transmits the stream of data units (step 850). While transmitting the stream, the duplicating switch 130 may receive a pause request (step 860). If the duplicating switch 130 receives a pause request, the duplicating switch stops transmitting the stream of data units to the terminal (step 865). With the stream of data units paused, the duplicating switch 130 may wait to receive a play request (step 870).

[0088] If the play request is received, the duplicating switch 130 continues to transmit the stream of data units where the terminal left off (step 880). If not, the duplicating switch 130 waits for the resume request. When the terminal resumes receiving the stream of data units, the duplicating switch checks for a new pause request (step 860).

[0089] If the duplicating switch 130 does not receive a pause request, the duplicating switch may receive a stop request or reach the end of the stream (step 885). If the stop request is received or the end of the stream of data units is reached, the duplicating switch ceases transmitting (step 890). If not, the duplicating switch 130 continues transmitting and returns to waiting for a pause request (step 860).

[0090] Ceasing transmitting may include automatically selecting another stream of data units to be transmitted. For example, the duplicating switch 130 may select another video to transmit when one video ends.

[0091] An “instant replay” or rewind feature may be created using a similar process, except instead of resuming transmission of a stream where the stream was produced, the stream is retransmitted time-shifted to an earlier moment in the stream (e.g., 30 seconds for a commercial, 15 seconds for a sporting event). For example, the duplicating switch may load content from memory representing the stream 30 seconds earlier, and may transmit that content beginning at the earlier location (continuing on from that point).

[0092] Other implementations are within the scope of the following claims. In particular, in some implementations, the terminal includes a set top tuner set to receive an analog signal. Also, the location identifiers described in FIG. 8 may be maintained on the client, or on a separate server or device to indicate which content piece the terminals may be receiving.

[0093] The source, network, on-demand-system, and terminal also may be distributed across different entities in the communication system, and may make use of one or more agents and/or proxies to perform certain functions.

Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US7237033 *Mar 6, 2002Jun 26, 2007Aol LlcDuplicating switch for streaming data units to a terminal
US7266609Jun 29, 2001Sep 4, 2007Aol LlcGenerating multiple data streams from a single data source
US7292571May 31, 2002Nov 6, 2007Aol Llc, A Delaware Limited Liability CompanyLoad balancing with direct terminal response
US7376790Oct 14, 2004May 20, 2008Network Appliance, Inc.Caching media data using content sensitive object identifiers
US7386627 *Jan 29, 2002Jun 10, 2008Network Appliance, Inc.Methods and apparatus for precomputing checksums for streaming media
US7673063 *Oct 15, 2004Mar 2, 2010Motorola, Inc.Methods for streaming media data
US7694013May 29, 2007Apr 6, 2010Aol Inc.Duplicating switch for streaming data units to a terminal
US7756124 *Mar 23, 2005Jul 13, 2010Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P.Encapsulating packets for network chip conduit port
US7756271 *Jun 15, 2004Jul 13, 2010Microsoft CorporationScalable layered access control for multimedia
US7894426 *Feb 4, 2005Feb 22, 2011Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P.Conduit port for network chips
US7991911Mar 26, 2010Aug 2, 2011Aol Inc.Duplicating switch for streaming data units to a terminal using different communication protocols
US8130755Jun 11, 2007Mar 6, 2012Aol Inc.Load balancing with direct terminal response
US8208493 *Feb 12, 2007Jun 26, 2012Samsung Electronics Co., LtdApparatus and method for transmitting broadcast data in digital broadcasting service system
US8224991Jun 30, 2011Jul 17, 2012Aol Inc.Duplicating switch for streaming data units to a terminal using different communication protocols
WO2008083459A1 *Oct 16, 2007Jul 17, 2008Technologies Ezoom ExponentielSystem and method for duplicating and delivering media streams using the unicast protocol
Classifications
U.S. Classification709/213, 709/231
International ClassificationH04L12/18, H04N7/16, H04L29/08, H04L29/12, H04L29/06
Cooperative ClassificationH04L65/607, H04N21/23106, H04L12/1854, H04L29/06027, H04N21/222, H04L12/1877, H04N21/64, H04L61/00, H04L29/06, H04N21/6125, H04L29/12009, H04L65/605, H04L69/329, H04L67/2823
European ClassificationH04N21/64, H04N21/231C, H04N21/61D3, H04N21/222, H04L12/18R2, H04L61/00, H04L29/06, H04L29/06C2, H04L29/12A, H04L29/06M6C6
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